More than 90 migrants, arrested under Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s border crackdown, have had their first court appearances canceled this week after a judge and another judicial official came down with COVID-19, The Texas Tribune is reporting.
The migrants, all men, were taken into custody by the state on trespassing charges. Almost one-third of them have been behind bars for up to three months without going before a judge, the news outlet said.
Kinney County Judge Tully Shahan, who was to preside over one of four court hearings for the migrants this week, and a county court coordinator have contracted COVID-19, according to the Tribune, which attributed the information to a county spokesperson.
Attorneys for the migrants were informed Sunday that the hearings this week were canceled.
"They’re in limbo," said Amrutha Jindal, a defense attorney whose organization represents several of the migrants. "Because this is a makeshift court, it doesn’t appear they have the standard backup procedures in place that a traditional court system would for when something like this happens."
Abbott had ordered the crackdown in July. So far, it has resulted in almost 2,000 trespassing arrests in Kinney and Val Verde counties, the Tribune noted.
"Listen, we have to do it," the Republican governor had told Eric Bolling, the host of Newsmax's "Eric Bolling The Balance." "We have to secure our border while the federal government twiddles its thumbs."
And he added in the Oct. 28 interview: "We're adding thousands upon thousands of National Guard as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety to secure the border," Abbott told Bolling. "As we speak right now, they are barricading the border using different strategies. They're laying miles of razor wire upon razor wire."
But the Tribune said it took months after the mass arrests began before "court hearings were held."
"It’s literally like winning the lottery when their case gets set for arraignment," said Kristin Etter, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
Matt Benacci, a spokesperson for the county, said officials expect makeup dockets to be scheduled when hearings resume, perhaps as early as next week.
He noted Kinney County Attorney Brent Smith believes the court "will be double-timing it."
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